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Oaxaca Tour 2021 [Trip Report]

This 11-day tour in November 2021 focused on the birds, natural history, and culture of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Trip Leaders were Ivan Phillipsen and Luis Morales.

Map for Oaxaca Tour 2-01MEXICOOAXACANTeotitlanOaxaca CitySan Jose del PacificoPuerto Escondido

Day 1 – Nov 11 – Arrival to Oaxaca, Mexico

The tour begins as the group arrives in Oaxaca City. Some of us arrived a day or two early, allowing for some personal exploration of Central Oaxaca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After introductions all around, we all got settled in at our comfy inn in the small town of Teotitlan, about 45 minutes east of the big city. 

Day 2 – The Sierra Norte

A few intrepid birders in the group went out for some pre-breakfast birding around our inn. The valley scrub habitat and farms around Teotitlan offer a surprising diversity of bird life!

After a delicious home-cooked breakfast, the whole group loaded into our van and we headed out. Our goal this day was to venture into the Sierra Norte, the mountains looming over the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, to the north.

Our first stop was on the outskirts of Teotitlan. We looked for birds around the small reservoir and dam there. Some species highlights included Least Grebe, our first Vermilion Flycatchers of the trip, Dusky Hummingbird, and Berylline Hummingbird.

Back in the vna, we followed a winding, dirt road as it climbed into the mountains. Over the next hour, the habitat transitioned from Valley Scrub, to Oak Woodland, to Pine-Oak forest. It was cool and crisp where we finally stopped to get out. The elevation was approximately 9,000 feet! Although it was relatively quiet in the forest, we were treated to an exciting encounter with a Red Warbler and a Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer!

We headed back down the mountain to have lunch at a Mezcaleria: a facility that makes mezcal.

Then it was siesta time back at our inn. Having rested, we took a short drive out into the agricultural fields of Teotitlan. It was early evening and there was plenty of bird activity. We had great looks at Greater Pewee, Boucard’s Wren, Green Kingfisher, and Lesser Nighthawk.

We had fun during our first meeting to fill in our bird/wildlife lists. Then it was time for dinner and then off to bed.

Day 3 – Ancient Ruins: Yagul and Mitla

Today, we headed east to the famous archeological site of Yagul. There we saw the place where archeologists found some of the earliest evidence of crop domestication in the New World. We walked along trails and through the ancient site to look for birds and other animals. Among other species, we saw Gray-breasted Woodpecker, Black-vented Oriole, Thick-billed Kingbird, Beautiful Hummingbird, and White-tailed Kite.

Then it was off to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins of Mitla. The complex stonework here is truly amazing. We also found a Curve-billed Thrasher hopping around on the buildings… Bonus bird!

In the late afternoon at our inn, the proprietor, Demetrio, gave us a wonderful demonstration of his traditional rug weaving and natural dye production. The Zapotec town of Teotitlan is famous for the artistry and quality of its woven textiles.

Day 4 – Tlacolula Market and La Cumbre Ixtepeji

We said our goodbyes to Teotitlan and our wonderful hosts this morning. Our first stop was the bustling Sunday market of Tlacolula. People have been gathering here every week for hundreds of years. You can buy just about anything you need at the market: foods like peppers, spices, meat, and fruit; clothing, toys, kitchenware, DVDs… you name it. It’s an amazing experience!

We drove west and north, once again into the Sierra Norte. We stopped to explore and look for birds among the small farms surrounding a mountain stream. New species seen here included Gray Silky-flycatcher, Tufted Flycatcher, and Summer Tanager.

We ate lunch at a nice restaurant in the mountains. The view overlooked a pine-filled canyon. Then we explored and birded at several spots in the nature reserve, La Cumbre Ixtepeji. Species we found in the mountains included Blue-throated Mountain-gem (a large hummingbird), White-eared Hummingbird, Red Warbler, and Crescent-chested Warbler.

For the next two nights, we stayed at a hotel right in the heart of Central Oaxaca City. We all had free time this evening to enjoy dinner wherever we liked.

Day 5 – Monte Alban and Oaxaca City

We got an early start today, to go visit the amazing archeological site, Monte Alban. This complex of pyramids and other stone ruins sit high on a hill overlooking Oaxaca City. It was built by Zapotec people beginning over two thousand years ago.

We explored the ruins of Monte Alban, and kept our eyes open for any birds. A few of us got a glimpse of the endemic Oaxaca Sparrow!

After lunch, we returned to our hotel. We had free time to explore the vibrant, historic city on our own for the rest of the day.

Day 6 – Alebrije Workshop and the Sierra Madre del Sur

It was time to leave Oaxaca City and head south, into the Sierra Madre del Sur (the southern mountains). But first, we stopped at a world-famous artisan workshop that produces alebrijes. These are intricate wood carvings of animals, painted in complex, beautiful geometric patterns. We got a demonstration of how the carvings are made, then had an opportunity to pick up some souvenirs!

We had a long road ahead, into the mountains. Some of us dozed in the van, while some of us watched the movie Coco on the small TV monitor. Our winding path took us to the small town of San Jose del Pacifico, where we spent the night at a charming lodge.

We went birding in the late afternoon on the lush grounds around the inn. We got good looks at Bumblebee Hummingbird and Brown-backed Solitaire. He heard the calls of solitaires ringing through the mountain air. We also heard, but never saw, Long-tailed Wood-Partridge.

Dinner was at an eclectic Italian restaurant nearby. The food was excellent, but the portions were just too much!

Day 7 – Birding in the Mountains

Many of us went out for some pre-breakfast birding. We were treated to a great performance by some Slate-throated Redstarts. We also got to see our first Yellow-eyed Juncos.

We checked out and continued our journey across the Sierra Madre del Sur. We had lunch in the field, at our birding spot in a patch of cloud forest. Besides the beautiful vegetation, complete with giant tree ferns, we saw several exciting bird species: Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Rufous-naped Wren, Common Chlorospingus, and Flame-colored Tanager.

Then we continued on to our lodging, a beautiful inn on a shade coffee farm. The view overlooked the southern slopes of the mountains, down to the Pacific Ocean. The grounds here were very birdy in general. Within minutes of our arrival, we saw Masked Tityra, Common Black Hawk, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bullock’s Oriole, and Red-legged Honeycreeper.

Day 8 – From a Coffee Farm to the Sea

Early morning birding treated us to the sound of a calling Mottled Owl nearby. But the highlight might have been several Northern Emerald-Toucanets hopping around in the trees. We also saw Orange-fronted Parakeets, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-White Warbler, and more!

We were sad to leave the beautiful coffee farm, but we had to head for the coast. Along the way, we stopped along a scenic river to do some more birding. We got to see White-throated Magpie-Jay, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Golden-cheeked Woodpecker.

At last, we arrived at our hotel in the laid back beach town of Puerto Escondido. We enjoyed free time this evening, walking on the beach and sampling the local cafes.

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Day 9 – Laguna Manialtepec Boat Ride

Our big adventure today was to go on a boat ride through the mangrove ecosystem of Manialtepec Lagoon! We boarded the small boat just after sunrise. Immediately, we started seeing exciting birds, and the birds just kept coming for the next two hours.

We ended up finding 58 species, including West Mexican Chachalaca, Northern Jacana, Sandwich Tern, Anhinga, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Ringed Kingfisher, White-fronted Parrot, Gray-breasted Martin, Mangrove Swallow, and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater. It was an amazing morning!

In the evening, we gathered on the rooftop bar of our hotel and watched the sunset as we filled out our bird/wildlife list.

Day 10 – Birds and Turtles

The last full day of our tour! We drove east of Puerto Escondido, to do some birding along a dirt road near the beach. We stayed in the shade as much as possible, because the tropical sun was blazing even though it was still morning. We picked up some Turquoise-crowned Hummingbirds, as well as Wood Stork, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Scrub Euphonia, Orchard Oriole, and Streak-backed Oriole.

Then, we visited the sea turtle sanctuary at the end of the road, on the beach. We learned about the Olive Ridley turtles that nest by the thousands on this beach. We also got a lucky surprise when the sanctuary staff let us each release a handful of newly hatched turtles into the sea! It was an amazing experience!

At lunch, overlooking the beach, we could see thousands and thousands of adult Olive Ridley turtles swimming beyond the breakers. They were staging for the next wave of egg-laying on the shore. It was a once-in-a-lifetime view of an incredible natural event.

That evening, we gathered on the rooftop of our hotel once again. We raised our glasses to celebrate our adventure in Oaxaca! We enjoyed the sunset over the ocean and completed our bird and wildlife lists.

Full bird list [download]

Bird Species Highlights

  • Northern Emerald-Toucanet
  • Red Warbler
  • White-throated Magpie-Jay
  • Flame-colored Tanager
  • Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
  • Boucard’s Wren
  • Blue-throated Mountain-gem
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